It has been way too long!

The past few months have been full of surprises. I had a month-long contract job running a graduate program’s residency that left me pretty tired. I got my drivers license! I applied for and got two part time positions at my alma mater. Oh, and I started putting the wheels in motion to open my own Etsy shop. It’s been a bit crazy, to say the least.

I’ve been sharing most of my food stories via Instagram lately, but I’ve really missed my blogging time. I will be keeping up with things on my Instagram profile, bentbecca52, but I’ll also be able now to start sharing things back here again! I miss my writing time and I really need to reclaim it!

So onward! Look for more writing on the blog coming shortly.

World Water Day

“World Water Day is March 22nd — a day when the world turns its attention towards the 750 million people who lack access to safe water.” (source)

I’d like to urge all of you to consider your water usage today (and every day). There are a number of places you can get information about World Water Day:

Food writing finds

I recently came across this listing of “20 Recipes Sam Sifton Thinks You Should Try in 2015” and thought I’d share it with you. There are a few other articles on food I’ve been reading lately. What’s especially interesting is the article about therapists encouraging cooking and baking as cures for depression. As someone who suffers from anxiety and very mild depression, I know first hand what a help being in the kitchen can be to my mood and mental state.  As the article says, “Psychologists call this type of therapy “behavioral activation,” and its popularity seems natural as it encourages goal-oriented activity, the WSJ reports.” Cooking becomes something to take your mind off stress. You have to focus on what you’re doing, which effectively crowds out negative thoughts. It also has the benefit of making you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I know I feel like I have more productive days when I’ve worked through a recipe or cooked something I enjoy. Hell, that’s how this blog started. I was bored and stressed out from not having a job, so I started cooking and crowding my friends’ Facebook feeds with pictures of all my creations until someone suggested I start a blog!

Thoughts on the therapy, or the other articles?

 

Good eats

I spent part of last weekend in Seaside, OR to visit a writing program’s residency that I’ve interned with previously. Friday night I went out for drinks with friends to this place called Dundee’s. I have to say, as kind of sluggish as our service was, it was mostly made up for by the food.

Since it was pushing 11 pm, we just got drinks and fries to share. I ordered a Sex on the Beach (one of the few cocktails I know I can enjoy anywhere) that ended up being rather strong and got me a little buzzed.

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It’s such a pretty drink. To go along with the drinks, they brought out the best fries I have ever had. We got a basket of sweet potato fries and garlic fries. Oh man, the garlic fries! To die for! Especially with a little barbecue sauce. All the noms.

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My mouth is watering just looking at these. I want to go back!

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National Peking Duck Day

Maybe you remember on Christmas that I posted a picture of a book I got:

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I didn’t really explain what the book is, so let me do that now. Eat the Year, by Steff Deschenes, is a national food day catalogue based on her blog of the same name. She ate the year through celebrating various national food days.

I didn’t want to get the book because I wanted to do the same (there are too many food holidays in here that are foods I can’t eat), but rather to stimulate blog writing. Well, as it tends to do, life has gotten in the way of that lately. But I’m here to recommit! I’m not going to post the holiday every day (that’s the point of buying the book, so I won’t take away from her efforts), but I plan on noting particularly interesting days to you. Like today.

Today is National Peking Duck Day. I chose this as my first post from the book because, well, the holidays up until now haven’t been too inspiring. On the third was National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day, which I could have written for with a post about how much I hate chocolate covered cherries, but really, that pretty much covers. I hate chocolate covered cherries. On the tenth was National Bittersweet Chocolate Day, for which I could have written about how I’ve come to realize why it’s important to use bittersweet chocolate in chocolate chip cookies (you really do have to change the batter recipe if you’re using a different type of chip). But really this is the first interesting (for me as a writer) eating day from the book.

I have never had Peking Duck. I have never had duck period. I have no idea why that’s the case. Chinese is my favorite type of food (next to no dairy! and plenty of noodles! Win-Win!), but I’ve never bothered to try it. So I’m making it a goal for myself, the next time I have the opportunity to try duck, I will.

Have any of you had Peking Duck? Thoughts?

My first time at Red Lobster

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday, and as usual we went out to dinner. The past few years we’ve gone to McCormick and Schmick’s. A birthday is always our excuse for going a little bigger than we would otherwise, especially when it comes to dad.

This year, we changed things up a bit. Our last visit to M&S’s was disappointing for some, so dad decided on Red Lobster. I was a little hesitant, as I am most times I visit a new restaurant, until I checked out the menu online. Not only do I have my dairy restrictions to consider, but I’m also not big on seafood. I love shrimp, unsure of crab and most fish, and I’d never had lobster before. But I found a few things I could go with and thought I’d enjoy myself eating out for once.

I was more than right. First off, while I’m hardly a drinker, I do love a good daiquiri and they make a great Mango Berry Daiquiri.

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I ended up with two of these over the course of dinner. They were so good! The mango took over most of the flavor profile, but I happen to love mango, so it wasn’t overpowering to me. What was best about the drink was that there wasn’t even a hint of the rum it contained. Part of why I don’t drink very often is I can’t stand the taste of alcohol (and it’s really flipping expensive). So to find a drink like the daiquiri is nice.

What also made for a good meal was what I ordered. I got a plate of the garlic-grilled shrimp and the peppercorn sirloin, with a side of wild rice pilaf. All of it was so tasty. The shrimp wasn’t overly buttery, my medium-rare sirloin was tender and flavorful (and not terribly peppery as I feared it would be), and the rice pilaf was a nice twist on what I usually get in a rice dish.

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(The shrimp had been skewered, but I was eager to eat and forgot about sharing the artful plate with you all until they had been freed of their wooden impalement.)

Lastly, to top off a nice meal, I finally tried lobster. I get it. I really do. It’s awesome! My mom was generous to share a couple bites of the tail she got, both with and without butter. Obviously it was better with, but I did enjoy it without. I didn’t ask to try anyone’s crab, but dad let me try my hand at cracking one of his claws. Not an experience I feel the need to repeat unless necessary.

Perhaps one day I will be brave and try my hand at making lobster myself. I have a feeling I will be much like Julie Powell in Julie and Julia (the film version, I haven’t read the book).

I want to end this with a shout out to our waitress Jen (at the Vancouver location). She was a great server and we had a great time chatting with her. She seemed to really enjoy her job, which is always nice to see. I know it’s not always easy to be warm and smiling in service jobs (having been in one myself years ago), so I appreciate those who make a point of going above the expectation like she did.

Another time I will share something about her and what it means for her job that I find fascinating.

There’s something special about coffee art

I was flipping through some photos on my phone and found this from a couple of weeks ago:

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I took it one Saturday night at Insomnia Coffee Co while out writing with my friend Kelly. Instantly I thought of my friend Bri who is a barista in New York City now while working on her Masters. She’s been posting pictures of her progressing coffee art talents and it’s been fun watching her slightly swirled attempts to master the cream leaf. She’s pretty dang good at it now.

Every time I see her posts, though, I have to laugh a little. I have a feeling coffee art is what has spurred the novice food photographer more than anything else. Not everyone is going to be impressed with your kale salad or perfectly seared tuna. But everyone can appreciate the skill it takes to create an aesthetically pleasing picture in coffee foam or milk. It’s interesting and no two are ever the same. And while some of it can be done as competition between baristas, it always seems to be done to spread a little joy amongst customers, which is kind of neat considering the crazy world we live in.

I have no idea how anyone does these little masterpieces. I barely have a steady enough hand to frost cakes and holiday cookies, let alone swirl liquids to create a picture. So bravo to you, coffee Picassos and Monets. Keep filling our Instagrams and Twitters with your art. It may only last through our first sips, but it stays with us all day.

Tomorrow is recap day

I’ll be giving you all a rundown of how today went and the little tips and tricks I use for cooking a big meal. For now, I’m going to read for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Severe food coma is coming my way.

Hope everyone’s holiday was wonderful and filling.

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Happy Turkey Day

AKA Thanksgiving.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. Graduating college, having a super supportive family, great friends I couldn’t do it all without, travel (over 2,000 miles this year), and of course, great food and people to share it with!

I hope y’all are having a great day. We’re getting ready this morning with a whopper of a bird, weighing in at 19.34 lbs. Biggest bird we’ve ever cooked. Something else I’m thankful for: dad will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Surprisingly, most of the action in the kitchen won’t really get going until 2 pm, but I’ll keep you guys posted.

And yes, Kelly, I’m making the sprouts. (We should make a batch together!)

Good luck to all you tackling the turkey and sides today!

Turkey day prep!

And so the chaos begins.

Actually, I’m a very organized chef for holidays. Well in advance, I come up with the menu and actually create a schedule for the day that I can (as well as whoever’s helping in the kitchen) follow without getting crazed and stressed out. This is one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had. I’m a worrier, Type-A by nature. I like a good list, and if you’re like me, the schedule is your best friend.

The best way to figure out your schedule is knowing two things: when do you want to eat, and how long does your longest component take. For Thanksgiving, the thing that takes the longest to cook is the turkey, of course. Once we decide on when we want to eat, it’s a bit of simple subtraction. Take last year: we wanted to eat at 4 pm. It was going to take 2 hrs 15 minutes to cook the turkey, plus 30 minutes to rest, and time for the oven to come up to temperature while finishing last-minute bird prep (which I gave myself 30 mins to do). All told, I needed 3 hrs 15 minutes to get the turkey done. So I started my schedule at 12:45 pm. Everything else was worked around the most important component. It’s especially helpful if you have multiple things coming in and out of the oven and you have to remember to baste. I put every little prep and cooking detail (including recipe page numbers) on the schedule with the menu at the top.

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Never again have a frazzled holiday of cooking!

Now, besides setting up my wonderful schedule, today is also brining day! Remember when I told you about my pilgrimage to Williams Sonoma? And how I bought a container of turkey brine? Well, it’s time to break that bad boy out. We’ve brined our turkey for the past few years, and it, combined with the breast down roasting technique, has resulted in the juiciest turkey I’ve ever had.

Now, if you’ve never brined something, the idea can seem a little intimidating. But trust me, the hardest part about it is making sure you have a container big enough to hold it all. Really, all it comes down to is boiling salt, sugar, and seasoning in water until the salt and sugar dissolve. Then the mix is cooled, diluted with some water (usually ice water to bring the temp down even more), and poured over the turkey. It’s like giving your turkey a nice bath before you fire up the oven. Now, the first two years we brined, we put our turkey in a garbage bag (2, actually, for better leak protection) and put it in the cooler in the garage (where is stays well below 45 this time of year). the tricky part is that you’re supposed to turn the turkey once about half way through the 12-36 hour brining time. This year, we got a little fancy and bought brining bags at Williams Sonoma. It’s still going in the cooler in the garage, but perhaps it’s a bit more secure this time. We’ll see.

Anyways, once it’s time to cook, you simply remove the bird from the brine, rinse and pat dry. It really does make a big difference, not just in flavor, but in moistness. The salt in the brine pulls moisture into the bird that then keeps things juicy in the oven.

And should you need help for this holiday, don’t forget that Butterball has a hotline:

This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes of television. Really, the whole episode, “The Indians in the Lobby” (Season 3, Episode 8) is worth watching on Netflix.

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging as I cook (provided things don’t get too nutty with three people cooking!), and then a recap and leftover ideas on Friday. Happy holidays!